The European F1 season began in Spain last weekend and after promise of upgrades to challenge to Mercedes’ dominance there was little to suggest this season will be anything other than a two-horse race...
So what did we learn in Spain?
1) HAMILTON IS WINNING THE MIND GAMES – FOR NOW
In a car so dominant, with two extremely talented drivers fighting for victory, the battle for the title already appears likely to come down to psychology within the Mercedes team – and the atmosphere after the race suggests Lewis Hamilton has Nico Rosberg right where he wants him.
There was little interaction between the pair in the post-race ‘green room’ and both admitted there is naturally “high tension” in the fight between them.
Rosberg will be annoyed that, once again, he had the better performance and pace but could not get the better result – and the fact Hamilton admitted as much will not have helped the German’s mental state.
Hamilton has led Rosberg in a Mercedes one-two in each of the last four races, eroding the 25-point deficit he was left with after his no-score retirement in the season opener race to take the title lead.
Even before this weekend Sebastian Vettel admitted he “would hate Lewis now, if I was Nico.”
Rosberg is refusing to buckle and recalled their previous karting battles, reminding us: “We have done it before, when we were 14.” Back then they overcame any differences with amicable discussions and debate. This time, the stakes are somewhat higher.
The interesting thing to watch, though, will be how each reacts if and when Hamilton slips up...
2) NOT SO FAST ON THE UPDATES
Anyone expecting a huge leap forward from the chasing pack at the first European round was left sorely disappointed in Barcelona.
The Spanish Grand Prix traditionally sees teams bring significant changes as they show their first hand in the development race – so it was worrying to see that Mercedes, in fact, arrived with one of the biggest upgrade packages of all.
In truth, many of the chasing teams have had to spend their time trying to get to grips with the new regulations and new equipment rather than focusing on modifications, so there may yet be some longer lead upgrades in the pipeline.
But for now, the old adage of the car in front being able to develop the fastest while others play catch-up is certainly running true as Mercedes move further ahead of the pack.
3) FERRARI ARE LOST
It could be season over already at Ferrari.
With Stefano Domenicali gone from the team leader position, replaced by the less technically-focused Marco Mattiaci, the immediate aim appears to be to be teaching the new man the business of F1 rather than urgently attending to a car that is lacking in pace.
“(He has) little experience in motor racing, a lot of experience on the managerial side but he's listening, he's learning as quickly as he can in everything,” said Fernando Alonso.
“He will need some time to settle down and to make some changes...in the two or three weeks that he's in the job, nothing has really changed at the moment. He needs more time.”
If he is the man to lead Ferrari back to the front, then that could be good long-term vision but for Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, it is not good news for their careers as time ticks on.
Alonso admitted the team “need to do very special weekends to be on the podium” and already after five races he is more than two wins away from the top of the table, while Ferrari are third in the championship with the leaders already on triple their points tally.
It’s hard to see a quick upturn in fortunes – and without that, this season looks set to be another settling period at Maranello.
4) RENAULT IS GETTING THERE...
Renault has been playing catch-up since the pre-season after delivering its new engine project later than expected – but their engineers appear to be getting to grips with the situation.
They brought in upgrades to both hardware and software for this race, with the latter reportedly offering the biggest gains by improving the way the petrol and electrical elements work in tandem – an area that has been key to Mercedes’ success so far.
It is understood the focus has been on improving driveability rather than overall horsepower, and that could have positive knock-on effects for Renault teams on handling, including a reduction in tyre wear.
5) ...BUT THERE COULD BE TROUBLE AHEAD FOR SOME
Renault also confirmed that at least one of their customers has not paid its bill this season and that they may be forced to withhold their supply for future races.
Toro Rosso’s Franz Tost and Caterham’s Cyril Abiteboul confirmed in a press conference they have both paid up, as far as they are aware, so the allegedly defaulting team must either be world champions Red Bull or Lotus.
And it’s a fair bet which of those is more likely...
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